Bob Wojnowski, John Niyo and Pistons beat writer Rod Beard talk midseason grades, where they're headed and Stan Van Gundy's future. Detroit News
Toronto — Pistons general manager Jeff Bower sat in the stands at Air Canada Centre during Wednesday morning’s shootaround, using his phone.
There’s no time for Words With Friends; he was doing some online shopping — perusing possible deals and making and taking calls about other roster possibilities.
It’s that time of year again.
With Stanley Johnson (hip flexor) sitting out the shootaround and Luke Kennard (thumb) and Avery Bradley (groin) going through it at less than 100 percent, Bower continues to look at options, but until something good comes along, the Pistons will continue to try to make it with their own depth.
That means no deals. At least not yet.
Depth was supposed to be one of the strengths of this group — and it has been their saving grace in the first half. With the additions of Reggie Bullock and Anthony Tolliver, who were the leftovers in the 3-point-shooting bargain bin of free agency, they’ve been able to tread water somewhat.
Both were under-the-radar signings last summer, with the mid-level exception and bi-annual exception to augment a roster busting at the gills near the luxury-tax line. It’s just turned out that they have provided some of the best value because of their relatively inexpensive contracts, compared to their production in the first half of the season.
The phone is ringing for Bower, but even with the earlier NBA trade deadline of Feb. 8, there nothing tantalizing to this point.
“I don’t think (the volume) picked up any more,” Pistons president Stan Van Gundy said Wednesday. “Jeff’s always talking to people and people are calling. I don’t think it’s changed a whole lot.”
On Tuesday, in Reggie Hearn’s first Pistons practice after signing a two-way deal on Monday, he was getting a crash course in the offense. Dwight Buycks, signed to a fully guaranteed contract last week from his two-way deal, is playing a bigger role as well.
Hearn’s sense of urgency in getting up to speed was brought on by Kennard’s injury and though he warmed up and looked ready to play Wednesday. Van Gundy and Bower each said that they spate of injuries haven’t ramped up their desires to get a deal done.
With their depth, they’ve been able to absorb the injuries without panicking, but there are diminishing returns with continuing to use Ish Smith and Bullock in starting roles for extended stints, plus other reserves for longer periods.
Tolliver was projected to be a role player this season, but because of his improved defense and 3-point shooting, he surpassed second-year big man Henry Ellenson, who was slated to play big minutes in a breakout role. Tolliver looked to be worn down as the season reached its midpoint, but he bounced back with 17 points Monday against the Hornets.
In 39 games, Tolliver has averaged 20 minutes per game, so there could be some room for Ellenson to take on some of those minutes, even to see how he handles the pace. It’s a delicate balance because the Pistons are vying for a playoff spot but with the limited minutes Ellenson has played this season, it still isn’t obvious how much he improved over last season or how much he can handle.
Even that has a bearing on potential trades that the Pistons could make. Bullock and Tolliver are low-priced assets the Pistons could dangle as cost-controlled sweeteners in a bigger deal, but that could also short-circuit any push they have toward making the postseason.
Push (toward the playoffs) or pull (the veterans). It’s still too early to make sweeping proclamations about what the Pistons should do, but their approach as the trade deadline near could be a harbinger for their playoff hopes.
Of course, Reggie Jackson could return by the end of February, which would feel like an acquisition alone. That prospect has to be ringing in the heads of Van Gundy and Bower as they consider making any deal: just hold on until their most versatile offensive threat returns — hopefully healthy.
Then again, what happens if they’re out of the running by then?
It’s the tough part about being a general manager.
And Bower will have to make the call.